Who Asks For Consent Of Wife To Make Her Pregnant? She Didn’t Want It So I Did ‘Dhappa’!

We need to speak of marital rapes not just because they are sexual violence, but also because of the unwanted pregnancy forced on a women.

Marital rape and a forced, unwanted pregnancy are both issues of breach consent, and must be given equal importance in securing women’s autonomy over their bodies. #AbortionStories

Illegally performed abortions always pose higher health risks to women but most women still have to resort to the same owing to the polarized standards of society.

And I am not even talking about the abortions unmarried women have to go through. In fact, most often abortions are taboo because the popular idea is that an unwanted pregnancy needing an abortion only happens out of wedlock.

However, in this article, I am going to talk about the reasons for and results of abortions among married women; even desiring an abortion inside a marriage.

Most cases of an unwanted pregnancy happen among married women

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act covers the issue of aborting a fetus in case of a medical emergency or unwanted pregnancy outside the institution of marriage. However, this Act fails to acknowledge that most of unwanted pregnancies occur within the institution of marriage.

I was 21 years old when I heard my first real-life abortion story of how a school friend of one of my acquaintances had a self-induced abortion. The abortion was successful and remained unnoticed particularly because the woman was married and a medical student. She had access to the necessary medication to terminate her two month old pregnancy and went through it for the sake of her career. She did not confide in anyone about it, until she had taken the medication and had the abortion. Even then, she told her story to her best friend (my acquaintance) only after its success.

However, many others who try the self-induced abortion aren’t so lucky.

She went through the abortion alone, because she was afraid…

What shocked me the most about this story was the fact that the girl was afraid to share the news of her pregnancy with her husband with whom she had a love marriage. Her husband was 10 years older than her and she was 21 years old at that time.

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She confessed that she was shocked to see her husband’s grinning when the first signs of her pregnancy started to show up, particularly because she was made to believe that he was using contraception and was very supportive of her decision of not starting a family till the completion of her degree in medicine.

She described how her husband noticed the swelling in her legs and the paleness of her skin to suggest grinningly that she might be pregnant. (The clear signs of anemia were not something he was concerned about as long as he was successful in making her pregnant).

He then told her to take a pregnancy test as well. However, when she found out that she was indeed pregnant, she decided to remain silent about it because she had noticed her husband’s intent and felt betrayed at some level having loved that man since her early teens.

She confessed to facing the moral dilemma of aborting her first conceived child as she thought it was the ‘product of their love’. She took a week’s time to think over her decision and ultimately felt that she wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a child while studying. She had worked very hard to qualify the examinations and get selected in the desired college. With no welcoming relative to take care of her and her newborn, she decided that it would be best for her and the life of her unborn children that she aborts the accidental pregnancy.

Throughout the whole ordeal she remained and suffered alone. No one knew anything to help her if something went wrong. And she had to face all this ordeal within the second month of their marriage only because her husband decided that he is ready for a child even though she wasn’t, and didn’t let her know of this plan.

‘Who asks for the consent of the wife to make her pregnant?’

This was an incident of around 2010. Fast forward to the year 2021, my husband returned from a social gathering and discussed with me a suggestion by one of his friends, who also was in a government job, since it disturbed him to his core.

So when my husband congratulated this friend on his wife’s second pregnancy approximately 7 years after the birth of their first child, he suggested that my husband shouldn’t take this long to plan a second one and do that as soon as possible. My husband took it as a joke and told him: “My wife’s hands are still full with the upbringing of our toddler daughter with no elderly or other help around. She will never consent to another pregnancy anytime soon.”

To this, this government employee from a reputed department said: “Who asks for the consent of the wife to make her pregnant? Her consent to sex is permission to make her pregnant. Even my wife had vouched never to have another child after our first one. I tried to coax her but when she didn’t agree, one day, I did ‘dhappa’.”

‘Dhappa’ was the symbolic word he used to impregnate his wife without her realizing it, just as in the game of hide and seek when someone catches the hidden off-guard they hit and knock them out.

My husband found the use of the word ‘dhappa’ deeply offensive to any woman and got into an argument with his friend. Others at the party pitched in their opinion too in this debate and most seemed in favor of this ‘dhappa’ impregnation of their wives, and projecting it as an accidental one due to the failure of means of contraception.

I must mention here that all these men were well educated, and the academically over-achievers.

My husband stood his ground and stated: “It is my wife who has to do most of the work of child care and I cannot force her into this work without her consent. Also, it is a great time in her career and I will not force her to give everything she has worked for only to take care of my children.” To this, these men took offence stating that even our wives had academically bright careers but it is equally important for women to take care of the family, and at times they care for their family only when “other distractions are over.”

As expected, the end of this discussion wasn’t in favour of women which my husband and I found deeply troublesome.

Talk of marital rape should also be about these ‘accidental’ pregnancies foisted on unwilling women

We often talk about the horrors of marital rape but often we fail to account for the projected “accidental pregnancies” which may also leave life-long trauma and trust issues.

The first thought that came to my mind after hearing this incident was why would any woman not abort the child that she never wanted and which was forced upon her by the institution of marriage? I have come across many accounts of accidental pregnancies where the wives were made to believe that “condoms are inefficient” and that “pulling out is a better method of contraception”. To add salt to the injury for these women, they were schooled in this misconception after having had one “accidental pregnancy”.

Reproductive rights and control over one’s own body are still a joke in India. The ignorance around the means of contraception is still so high even in well-educated Indian women, that they often fall into the traps set by their own husbands and in-laws. Marital rape and forced pregnancies both are an issue of consent, and must be given equal importance in securing women’s autonomy over their bodies.

A child forced on a woman can be traumatic and disastrous to everyone!

The moral policing around voluntarily aborting a child born of wedlock is so coercive that women disregard their physical and mental health altogether, often succumbing to post-partum depression and their children are often left neglected and uncared.

This brings to my mind, one of the stories from Bhagvad Purana, where it is told that Kansa’s mother wanted to abort him since she thought he was the product of the rape done on her in sleep by a demon. However, her husband, thinking the foetus to be his own, stopped her and morally schooled her, and brought Kansa up as his own which ultimately resulted in the misfortune for all.

Perhaps, this episode was included in the Puranas to establish the fact that the future of a foetus should be decided by the mother’s instinct.

A mother’s choice should be the most important, but never is

However, when the moral policing doesn’t work, the fear of infertility is instilled inside the newly-weds. This ensures that they decide to go ahead with unplanned pregnancies soon after the marriage and remain miserable thereafter, because of the lost opportunities.

In some households ‘accidental pregnancies’ are the schemes to stop women from going to work once and for all.

Abortion is never a real choice for the woman, despite India’s fairly progressive abortion laws compared to the world, and despite the fact that it is her body that has to take all the toll of pregnancy before and after the birth of the child.

It is equally important to note that the issue of a foetus’s right to life is rejected in favour of abortion by the same family and societal members who were morally policing the mother, if the development of the fetus shows physical and mental challenges for its lifetime.

A mother’s choice is considered equally unimportant in both scenarios.

A personal experience of how some workplaces deal with employees’ abortion

Workplaces are also not supportive when it comes to their policies of dealing with abortion, especially outside the policies of the Maternity Benefit Act. They consider their work done once the ‘mandatory weeks of rest’ leave is given to the women.

Sometimes the workplaces use these additional leaves as an excuse to harass women.

My aunt who is retired now, was in a government job at a college. She had three pregnancies. However, as per government policy, she could have availed the maternity leave only for her first two pregnancies. Her second pregnancy had many problems for which she had to avail of her leave two months before her actual date of delivery. However, the fetus was posing a continued risk to her and the doctor had to perform an emergency abortion.

At the time of her third pregnancy, she had to take Medical Leave since her maternity leave benefit was over at the time of her second pregnancy which ended tragically.

Now later, there was a new Government policy for medical benefits to the employees of the Central Universities and the colleges affiliated with them along with their dependents. The Principal of the institution refused to acknowledge my aunt’s second surviving child as a dependent, since she hadn’t availed the maternity leave at the time of his birth.

This was clearly being done out of pure spite because of reasons known only to the Principal. My aunt who was an employee at the college had requested the managing committee of the college to clear her papers citing all evidence of the abortion of her second child, but the Principal didn’t budge from her decision. It was after a fight of more than half a decade, with the members of the Teacher Association at the University getting involved. The Council gave a decision to hold the Principal’s salary till the matter of the dates of the birth of the surviving child of my aunt was solved, and only then the papers got her sign.

The Principal had decided to use the tragic event of her abortion years after the incident to take out some grudge on her part. This whole ordeal brought back her trauma and caused much mental harassment to her. However, no compensation was provided to her by the Principal or the institution for subjecting her to this ordeal and unnecessary fight.

All this needs to change

Our abortion laws and workplace environments need to be more empathetic, and stop the problematic behaviour of perceiving women who need maternity-related help as a liability, whether it is for pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, or loss of a newborn.

Provisions should be made to acknowledge the maternity-related traumas (ranging from postpartum depression to abortion and loss of children), and compensations should be provided for subjecting women through it.

There are progressive laws, but they are not applied in the spirit they should be. There should be increased provisions to let women exercise autonomous control over their bodies and the decisions regarding them. The choice of maintaining a pregnancy or not should be solely given to women.

Moral policing against the right of women for making this choice should be criminalized as mental harassment as it often forces women to take the decision against their physical and mental needs.

Image source: a still from the short film Juice

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About the Author

Dr Nishtha Mishra

I am an internationally published author of the book entitled "The Feminist Shaw" which has been published by Routledge, UK, and the USA. I was born to Professor mother and Doctor father. I am a read more...

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